My sausage, watch me make it (now with weird video)

Just a note on a little experiment I am doing. One of the useful bits I got from Context (aside from reminding various people that I still exist) was a talk on effective blogging given by Toby Buckell. One of many points he made was the idea that regularity was pretty important. (As in, a single post the same time every Wed. was probably more effective than a random smattering of three posts during the week.) So with the help of WordPress’ scheduling function I am going to attempt to smooth out my anarchic posting habits. Things should be popping up her now between 8-9 AM on weekdays. This seems to be a peek time for reading blogs, you slacker.

Just so this isn’t all navel gazing, here’s a video that my wife described as an abuse of music. (From Weird Universe.)

Actually, yeah you CAN write near-future SF

According to Charlie Stross:

We are living in interesting times; in fact, they’re so interesting that it is not currently possible to write near-future SF.

He has a few points about the hazards of planning a near-future SF novel in a plausible fashion, the most important IMHO being the long lead time between writing and publication where the time between conception of an idea and printed novel is going to be two to three years at a minimum, and more like four to five years on average. Generally, he’s right that what seems plausible when you begin writing may not seem so when the book’s published. . . but I don’t see how the situation nowadays is any different today than it has been since the genre began.

Take about any ten-year time frame in the past century, and you’re going to see some radical changes that any SF writer is going to miss:

  • 1928: We need to foresee an economic collapse, a Midwestern dust bowl, the rise of fascism in Europe.
  • 1938: We need to see not only the worst war in history, but the ascendancy of American military power and the complete collapse of the European colonial empires.
  • 1948: We need to foresee the rise of television and mass media, the remaking of Germany and Japan into American allies, the exodus to the suburbs, and the way the automobile remakes the entire landscape.
  • 1958: We need to see an unpopular war, (a novel concept) assassination as a political tool in the US, a space program that’s completely government run, free love and the civil rights movement.

The fact is, there is a long and venerable history of SF getting the future wrong (after all, the SF that was the closest to getting the idea of cell phones was Star Trek), and setting things only a decade ahead just means that the versimilitude has a shorter shelf life, and the sequel’s going to probably be an alternate history.

We Can Haz Book Trailer?

Prophets comes out in March 2009, and in advance of it coming out I have made my first attempt at a book trailer. The images are from NASA, a godsend for folks looking for spectacular royalty-free sfnal imagery. The music comes from Kevin MacLeod who runs a great music site that allows a broad range of uses (such as my book trailer) with only a credit. That, Photoshop, and Windows Movie Maker, we have a book trailer. I hope you enjoy watching this as much as I enjoyed making it.

Out of Context/In Context

Just a note that I will be showing up at Context 21 Saturday and Sunday. I’m on three panels:

  • 11:30 AM SAT How To Build A Dystopia
  • 1:00 PM SAT Genre Labels
  • 1:00 PM SUN Are Agents Necessary?

I’m not going to be there tonight though, so don’t look for me. . .

Random thoughts on the coming Apocalypse

Does anyone else find it amusing (I laugh so I do not cry) that both campaigns started immediately pointing fingers at each other about all the Freddie Mac and Fannie May insiders that pepper both their campaigns?

Am I the only one who sees McCain’s “OMG lets stop campaigning and deal with the crisis” as a reprise of Jimmy Carter’s “I’m locking myself in the White House till the Hostages come home” from the ’80 election? Am I the only one who sees it playing out at least as well? (I wonder if disco will come back?)

I get the whole “let’s grab the guillotine” attitude about these CEOs. It feels good to pile on these lowlifes. But, you know, taking a few hundred million from those folks is going to do exactly jack and shit about the trillion dollar elephant sitting in the middle of the room. (We shut the barn door, but the horse is gone and the tractor’s on fire.)

All these economic experts who are rushing headlong to solve this problem are the exact same people who somehow didn’t see this coming. This didn’t happen overnight, and any economist that actually said that the economy was sound any time in the last two years should be automatically disqualified from proposing a solution. (But they got us into this mess, of course they can get us out, right?)

Whatever Washington does isn’t going to actually fix the problem, the best they’re going to do is amortize the pain over the next five to ten years. We’re going to end up with a larger, more invasive government, higher taxes, more expensive gas, and the person we elect in November, whoever it is, is going to receive a good part of the blame for not fixing it. Our credit bubble that’s been blowing up since the 90s? Watch it deflate. (No! You can’t haz home equity line, not yourz!)

If you want to invest in something right now: Duct Tape, Canned Goods and Euros.

Lilli’s big day

Saturday we took the dogs to a great place called “Bow Wow Beach” which is, as you can deduce from the name, a dog park. It is, in fact a pretty damn sweet dog park that includes seven fenced-in acres, its own lake, and about five Wimbledon’s worth of tennis balls. Lilly had a blast, mostly at the expense of our nine-year-old dim bulb of a Labrador, Truffles.

Some thoughts about fan fiction

More or less randomly I was reading a thread on the Agony Booth and got thinking about fan fiction and how it relates to writing more generally. I generally look at fan fiction as a benign thing, as long as the fan work doesn’t start infringing on the rights of the original, (i.e. isn’t commercial.)

Of course, it is very unlikely to become a pro writer doing fan fiction. Most franchises (those that do hire new writers to write new material) will expect a writer to have established some professional chops on their own before considering letting them play in their sandbox. In other words, it is unlikely that anyone’s first sale is going to be a Star Wars novel. Then there are the franchises that aren’t going to let anyone write new stuff, so don’t expect to sell your Potter slash until 75 years after J. K. Rowling kicks the bucket.

Since a lot of beginners are cutting their teeth on the stuff, and at least a few are interested in breaking into the pro market, I have a suggestion that grows out of my recent experience writing Lilly’s Song. The genesis of that novel was in an anime series I saw last year; one that I felt had one hell of an impact aside from its flaws. The impulse I had after watching it was, I think, the same impulse most fan authors feel— being caught up so much in a story that there’s almost a need to express your own take on it. The difference was, since I want to get paid for what I write, I couldn’t just write in someone else’s universe. What I did was a more thorough analysis of that need. I spent a lot of time thinking about exactly what it was about this other fictional work I was so affected and interested in. It boiled down to two main things, a particular tone (combination of tone, actually) along with a very particular relationship between two characters. Picking out those elements, and a thread of plot, I was able to take those elements and transplant them into another universe with a different set of characters (a fantasy 13th Century Prussia vs. a sfnal 21st Century Japan).

If you want to break out of writing fan fiction, I’d suggest following a similar procedure. Think deeply about why you want to write about Buffy, or the X-files, or Harry Potter. Be honest, and think about what attracts you, what is it you want to write about: Are you writing about your own characters running around a cool setting? Is it one of the cool characters in your own setting? The storyline? A mood? Once you find that element or elements, divorce it from the original context and rebuild it inside your own fictional world, one that can be universes away from your inspiration. If you write Trek fiction because you like the K/S dynamic, you can write your slash in any military organization in any period of history. If you decide you like Harry Potter’s boarding-school setting, that’s conducive to just about any type of story, even if you still want the mysterious magical campus, its still doable if you change enough of the surroundings; making it a hub of cross-universe study, an orbital habitat that might be an alien being, or maybe its a steampunk building run by a clockwork AI. What elements of a character attract you? A particular attitude? An element of the backstory? Intellect? Martial ability? Fashion sense?

The trick in taking a fictional inspiration and turning it into something original is to isolate what excites you as narrowly as possible, and build back out from there. Once you know what it is you’re trying to capture, you become free to change anything else, and the act of changing can itself become a creative engine.

NOTE: I’m only being coy about the anime that inspired Lilly’s Song because, for those who’ve seen it, it would end up being a substantial spoiler. I do give credit in the acknowledgements.

Why I might be lax in posting. . .

The remains of hurricane Ike came by and messed up the power grid in NE Ohio.  No internet access at home or at the day job right now.  I’m in a coffee shop that’s avoided the outages right now. So, at least I can get my writing done.

Considering the devestation this storm has left in its wake elsewhere, I’m not going to have the bad taste to bitch about it inconviencing me.